A Health Guide to Treating Yeast Infection Safely

The troublesome symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection are not strange to women of today.  In fact, records show that about $49 million are spent each year in North America alone on over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription treatments.

Medical experts say that nearly all yeast infections are caused by a microorganism known as ‘Candida albicans.’  Normally, this organism inhabits the healthy vagina in small numbers.  However, doctors say that owing to a variety of factors – stress, a weakened immune system, hormonal changes, or the use of some antibiotics – Candida can grow out of control, triggering a host of uncomfortable symptoms.  These can include an itchy, red vaginal rash, vaginal discharge, pain during intercourse, and swelling.

Doctors assure that chronic yeast infections can be deterred by taking the following preventive measures:

- If you’re taking antibiotics, eat yogurt with acidophilus bacteria.

- Avoid synthetic underwear; choose "breathable" cotton instead.

- When using the toilet, always wipe from front to back.

- Avoid dyed or perfumed toilet paper, soaps, and detergents.

- Avoid feminine-hygiene sprays.

- Yeast thrives in damp environments; dry the vaginal area thoroughly after bathing.

Even if you find yourself in the throes of a nasty infection, however, rest easy.  Yeast infections are highly treatable.  Most OTC medications generally used for these conditions are available in the form of creams, suppositories, or ovules.  They have been shown to be 85 to 95 percent effective in knocking out infections.  To work, though, they must be used for the recommended times (usually from three to seven days) and dosages.  If you don’t like using OTC products, ask your doctor to prescribe oral fluconazole, available in a single-dose tablet and as effective as most other yeast therapies.  Be aware this drug may cause side effects.  A doctor will not prescribe it while a woman is pregnant or breastfeeding.

Although OTC treatments are readily available, take caution before treating yourself without a doctor’s supervision.  Women who have suffered from yeast infections appreciate the convenience of OTC products.  But self-treatment with these products can have its drawbacks.  For example, if the problem is not a yeast infection, using these products may disrupt the natural vaginal environment, causing irritation and even masking a serious infection.  Also, a yeast infection may be confused with more serious bacterial infections or sexually transmitted diseases, which can be aggravated by the use of yeast-infection treatments.  For this reason, a first-time sufferer should consult a doctor before undertaking self-treatment.  Moreover, if infection recurs, call a doctor before using an OTC treatment.

According to experts, repeated OTC treatment may cause resistance to the medication.  If you are among the 10 percent of women with a yeast infection caused by a resistant species of the Candida organism, your doctor can prescribe some alternative therapies.

An expert’s one final caution:  Women should not treat infections with homemade douches.  Most experts doubt their efficacy; use an approved antifungal treatment instead.